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We Energies Announces Long-Awaited Plans to Retire Oak Creek Coal Plant: A Win for our Health, the Economy, the Environment, and the Planet — Clean Power Coalition Responds

November 6, 2020 – This week, WEC Energy Group (owner of We Energies) announced it plans to retire 1400 MW of coal by 2025, starting with the four remaining units (1192 MW) at the South Oak Creek coal plant in 2023 and 2024; with an additional 300MW to be retired by 2025. WEC is a co-owner of the Columbia coal plant, operated by Alliant Energy; and it co-owns and operates the Weston Power Plant and Elm Road Generating Station. WEC’s announcement included plans to invest in a significant clean energy portfolio that includes 800 MW of solar, 600 MW of battery storage, and 100 MW of wind. WEC’s announcements are part of a “roadmap” that lays out the company’s near-term plans to achieve 70% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

Neighbors of the South Oak Creek plant have been speaking out about negative health impacts from the plant and calling for its closure for years. In 2017, those neighbors, the Sierra Club, and other local organizations formed the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin (CPCSW) to call for the retirement of the coal plant and for more clean energy. The Clean Power Coalition hosted a virtual press conference featuring several excellent speakers from member and partner organizations, responding to the news, calling for a just transition for impacted employees and the community, and committing to continued work to see all coal-generated power retired from Southeast Wisconsin and beyond. View the press event:

Sierra Club and the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin released the following statements.

Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Deputy Director Elizabeth Katt Reinders:

“WEC’s commitment to this massive coal-to-clean transition will deliver millions of dollars in savings to customers while improving the health and quality of life for Wisconsinites. Neighbors near the Oak Creek coal plant and other local activists have been speaking out on the dire impacts of this plant for years. An early retirement will mean the people of southeastern Wisconsin will breathe easier, Lake Michigan will be cleaner, and the company will make significant reductions in its contribution to climate change in this critical decade that calls for bold and urgent action.“As WEC steps into its transition from coal to clean energy, we urge them to invest in transition planning and resources for its workforce, and to prioritize new clean energy investment in communities most impacted by the transition and in regions that are too often overlooked for economic development. We have arrived at the clean energy tipping point, and it’s critical we build what’s next in a way that delivers the benefits of this transition equitably.”

Sierra Club Southeast Gateway Group Co-Chair and member of Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin Tom Rutkowski:

“The dramatic decline in the price of renewables, particularly solar energy, and the advent of cost-efficient battery storage made We Energies’ transition to clean energy only a matter of time. The Clean Power Coalition is glad that the transition will not be further delayed and that We Energies will close an obsolete plant rather than continuing to invest in it. This announcement is a tremendous step toward cleaner air and water, improved public health, significant climate action and a step that will also save customers money. We hope that the sixteen billion dollar investment in clean energy will be a great economic stimulus for Southeast Wisconsin as we recover from the economic effects of the pandemic and that We Energies will continue to help any workers displaced by this necessary transition.”

Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin member, Sister Janet Weyker of the Racine Dominicans:

“Just days after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, announcements like this show that we can still meet our climate goals. We Energies’ retirement of the South Oak Creek coal plant will cut air, water, and climate pollution that have harmed our community for years. As the transition to clean, carbon-free energy continues, we must stay committed to closing Wisconsin’s remaining fossil fuel-powered plants, supporting a just transition for workers, and ensuring that the benefits of this plant retirement are passed on to ratepayers.” 

Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin member, Village of Caledonia resident and neighbor to the South Oak Creek coal plant Renee Michna: 

“It’s good news to hear that We Energies is beginning to address what we have known all along, which is that producing power through coal results in severe health issues, such as the deaths of innocent people through lung disease. I applaud their decision to finally replace the South Oak Creek power plant with wind and solar. This transition should have happened a decade ago. Instead, We Energies at that time chose to build a gigantic new coal plant, Elm Road, on the same site, which will perhaps be one of the last coal plants ever built in America. So it is important to remember what type of corporation they still remain. They pollute the drinking water wells of area residents, pump mercury discharge and other toxins into Lake Michigan and allow coal dust from enormous coal piles to waft down on their neighbors. They are only decommissioning this old plant because the natural lifespan of the plant is near and public pressure has held their feet to the fire at every step. If they actually cared about the environment and their neighbors, they would immediately retire Elm Road and replace it with clean energy. We look forward to the day they decide to make that decision, and thus become a responsible corporation and a good neighbor.”

State Senator Chris Larson, Wisconsin’s 7th District:

“Our Oak Creek neighbors can breathe a little easier knowing their skies will be clearer very soon. I want to thank nearby families and the Clean Power Coalition for their advocacy, without which this would not have been possible. This coal plant closure is just one more step toward Wisconsin becoming a 100% clean energy state, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to make this a reality.”

Read more: “Oak Creek power plant’s partial closing a step in the right direction, but activists say there’s more work to do” – Kenosha News

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Clean Power Coalition Hosts Virtual Press Event Recalling Toxic Bluff Collapse by We Energies as Company Faces Water Permit Decision

The Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin hosted an online press conference on the ninth anniversary of the We Energies’ Oak Creek bluff collapse incident which occurred on Halloween of 2011. Speakers from the community and local public officials called on We Energies to stop their dirty tricks and finally end their haunting legacy in Southeast Wisconsin by retiring their polluting and devastation-prone coal plant. We Energies is faced with having to eliminate its more dangerous methods for handling coal ash by the end of next year, in accordance with its water permit. The company has yet to decide whether it will invest more money in the Oak Creek coal plant, or shut it down in order to comply. Speakers appealed to the company to make the only decision that will offer residents a guaranteed future free of impacts from that plant: a retirement and remediation timeline for the coal-fired Oak Creek Power Plant. Read more.

View the event here: 

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Justice for Jacob Blake

In our fight for the health and safety of Southeast Wisconsin’s residents, justice and equity are, and must continue to be, centered in our work as the Clean Power Coalition. Environmental and racial justice work are one and the same, and we stand in solidarity with those calling for justice for Jacob Blake.

Mr. Blake was shot multiple times in front of his children — none of them were treated with the dignity and respect each human being deserves. Instead of fighting for survival, he should be at home caring for his family in the midst of an already difficult pandemic.

Black lives matter and must be honored in Southeast Wisconsin. As a coalition, we demand action every day for clean air and water, better public health, and a stable climate. Today, we join those demanding justice for Jacob Blake, his family, and all of those who have suffered from police brutality. We invite you to join us.

You can donate to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund to support Wisconsinites who are protesting police violence. You can donate to Jacob Blake’s Go Fund Me to help cover medical costs as he is now paralyzed from the waist down and will need ongoing medical care.

 
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Join the Clean Power Coalition and the Sierra Club for a Statewide Week of Climate Action Aug. 3-7
Organizations and grassroots efforts across Wisconsin are joining together during the first week of August to call upon utilities to close dirty, expensive, oppressive, coal-fueled power plants. Six coal plants in the state have yet to be announced for retirement. We don’t have to wait for the utility companies to think it’s a good idea – we can make sure they hear loud and clear that we demand an end to burning toxic coal – for our health, the economy, our planet, and justice. In Southeast Wisconsin, we live among a pair of coal-fueled power plants operated by We Energies at their Oak Creek facilities. We also breathe some of the worst air in the state. Let’s make sure we turn out during the week of action so our voices are heard. RSVP now to receive updates and details so you can take collective action each day.   

 

 
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Clean Power Coalition’s Solidarity with #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd
What we are committed to as the Clean Power Coalition of Southeast Wisconsin is banding together in the face of injustice and working toward a healthy future for everyone. Typically, that commitment is focused on the injustices caused to the health of those who live in Southeast Wisconsin from the pollution created by We Energies’ coal fired power plants. Today the world calls upon us to apply our commitment in a broader context as we rise in solidarity with #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd, offer our support for George Floyd’s family, and condemn race-based injustice and brutality. Read the full statement including suggestions for taking action.   

 

 
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Documentary Premiere of “We Neighbors” and Presentation on History of Coal in Southeast Wisconsin Draws Standing-room-only Crowd
Around 130 people attended this free program on January 23 at the Riverbend Nature Center. Participants got the opportunity to ask questions of several of the neighbors featured in the documentary, as well as of industrial historian Keith Kohlmann who delivered a fascinating presentation on coal and coal trains.  

 

 

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Local Family Featured on National Podcast
“The Power Plant has come in our neighborhood and taken over. They’ve bought out how many houses around here just to quiet people. They wanted us to move out, too. But we decided we are going to stay and fight them. We are going to stay and fight.” – The Michna Family.  

 

 

The 11 siblings of the Michna family grew up on Michna Road in Caledonia where nearly all of them still live – despite having We Energies’ coal-fired power plant as a neighbor. Listen to their story in a recent episode of “The Land I Trust” podcast, which features storytellers from across the Midwestern US who share their experiences of climate change, the impacts of dirty fuels, and the fight for clean energy.

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Disappointingly, PSC Approves WEC Rate Case Settlement
On Thursday, October 31, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission indicated that it intends to approve the proposed settlement in WEC Energy Group’s rate case. This is unfortunate because the settlement does not address the unnecessary extra cost of the uneconomic South Oak Creek plant, leaving ratepayers on the hook to cover $75 million each year the plant continues to operate. Read the Sierra Club’s statement, coverage on Wisconsin Public Radio and on Madison.comand in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  

 

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EPA Approves DNR’s Stricter Water Permit for South Oak Creek
Based on review of extensive public comments, the DNR made two significant changes to the variance terms in We Energies’ proposed Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit, calling for 1) a slightly reduced mercury cap along with more robust measures to bring mercury levels into compliance going forward; and 2) a change in the Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) compliance deadline to 2021 from 2023. Following its 60-day review period for the permit variances, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the variances. This new WPDES permit will require WEC to invest millions more dollars to keep the South Oak Creek plant running – a plant we know is losing money. This adds new pressure on WEC for commitment to an earlier retirement of the plant.   

 

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See Live Data From PurpleAir Monitors
CPC owned monitors are tracking air quality around the Oak Creek plants. Click on a numbered green dot for details.